Book Review: When A Turtle Cries


By Jo Lynn Chong

“When A Turtle Cries” is a collection of 13 short stories written by Pan Jun-E (1903-1972) throughout her lifetime.

Written originally in Mandarin, the stories were published in Nanyang Siang Pau and New Women Mag. They were later discovered by one of Jun-E’s grandchildren, Tan Ju-Eng, an Ipohite, while she was going through her grandfather’s possessions. In honour of her grandmother’s legacy and to share these stories with the world, Ju-Eng decided to translate them into English.

Printed in bilingual form, the book holds thoughtful and heartfelt messages that are based on real-life events encountered by the author and the people around her. “Chen MingRuo” is about the death of Jun-E’s fifth child. It was only after the death of her beloved son that Jun-E started to write. With support from her husband, who constantly encouraged her to read and write, Jun-E was able to pursue her writing career, which lasted for almost four decades.

The stories take us back to 1930 – 1970s Malaya, a period in which society was very much run according to the rules of patriarchy. During that time, traditions were important. Women were regarded as inferior in all ranks of society. Child brides, child slavery, adultery and infidelity were rampant and considered social norms. Stories of how young girls were belittled, tortured and stripped of their identities make me contemplate many a time about the state of humanity. How did the women of that era endure such atrocities?

Writing with emotions deep from her soul, Jun-E tells her stories through the eyes of a young woman who longs for freedom. Again and again, the desire for the liberalisation of women rings loud in her words. Vivid descriptions about the characters provide insight into the everyday lives of the people then living, of how they suffered and died in innocence. Interestingly, the vocabulary used subtly reflects the culture and struggles of that time. The phrase “guizi” for instance, is a Chinese slang term used to berate the Japanese soldiers.

“When A Turtle Cries” is indeed a book that we must treasure, for what it has yet to teach us is of immeasurable worth. It reminds us that there is a dark side to society, a side of which not all of us know about. A side of which not many would want to unveil. It again reminds us that there are so many things in life that are often swept under the carpet and left untouched and unheard.

Why do we silence those who do not have a voice? Why do we turn our backs on the things that we deem are unmentionable? Why, again, are there so many of us that go all out to pursue fame and wealth, but not once, for a single time, bat an eyelid at the sad things in this world? This book tells us that we have to keep trying. It tells us the truth, and only the truth in its purest form.

Priced at RM25, money paid for the purchase of the book will be donated to single mothers. Interested readers can email Ju-Eng at for details.


Show More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button